Having enough – not more than enough

Pentecost 11 – 2016

Luke 12:13-31

Marian Free

In the name of God who has blessed us with all things good. Amen.

To save or not to save? To store up or not? We live in a nation that has a reasonable system of social welfare, but which also places an emphasis on the importance of taking care of oneself. Those of us who can afford the luxury are encouraged to take out medical insurance rather than place a burden on the public health system and to put sufficient aside so that we can live comfortably in what may be an increasingly long period of retirement. Our desire to ensure a basic standard of living for the less fortunate is balanced by a strong streak of independence and unwillingness to rely on the state.

In the last few decades, Superannuation has become big business and retirement has become, not simply an end to our working life and a time to relax, but an opportunity to do all those things that we haven’t yet done, a time for travel and adventure. As a result, our expectations of what we can or should expect to do when we retire, has increased exponentially. Our super schemes fill our in-boxes with information about how much we need to have set aside to ensure a comfortable retirement and our government gives us tax incentives to encourage us to top up our super funds.

What all of this means is that it is difficult for us to read the parable of the rich fool without some sense of gloom or even guilt. We ask ourselves: “Are we doing the wrong thing by setting aside funds for our future?” “Is it wrong to store up “treasure” against a “rainy day?”” “Will we be judged as those who have been more concerned about this life than the next?”

I have said on previous occasions that one of the concerns of the author of Luke is wealth. Luke has more to say about money than any of the other gospel writers. It is only in Luke that we find today’s parable and the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Only Luke records the story of Zacchaeus – the tax collector who gave away half of his fortune to the poor. Only Luke records disputes about inheritance – today’s gospel and the parable of the Prodigal Son. In his second volume, Luke records the fact that the early Christians held all things in common (Acts 2:43, 4:32) and tells the startling story of Ananias and Sapphira whose deceit in such matters resulted in their immediate death.

However, before we give everything away and place ourselves at the mercy of the state, or of our families, it is important that we understand what is going on here. The parable of the rich fool is Jesus’ response to a request to mediate on a matter of inheritance. We cannot be sure what lies behind the request. of the person in the crowd. In Jewish law a distant family member or a third-party was engaged to sort out inheritance disputes. Here, however, the fact that the petitioner is a member of crowd and the language that he uses which is similar to that found in the prodigal son suggests that the he is seeking his portion of inheritance before time – in effect wishing his father already dead so that he can have now what is due him in the future.

Jesus’ response to the person is to caution against greed – hence the parable.

The rich man is a landowner who almost certainly did not grow the crops himself. No peasant farmer would have had sufficient land to produce enough for his family, let alone a surplus. Nor would a peasant farmer have had sufficient land on which to build a barn, let alone barns. The rich fool is already rich – he has barns and they are already full but apparently he cannot imagine sharing his good fortune with anyone else, he will keep on building and keep on hoarding even though he has no need. His inner dialogue tells us that he is thinking only of himself: ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” “I, I, I, me, me, me.” He does not spare a thought for those whose back-breaking labour produced the surplus. He doesn’t think for a moment of his tenant farmers who struggle every day to earn enough to feed their families and who, being deprived of their land, have nothing to lay aside for themselves and no future to give their children.

The rich man is already in a position to eat, drink and be merry. He has no reason to store up his crops except to further enrich himself at the expense of others – that is by selling it at exorbitant prices when the crops fail. In thinking only of himself the rich man of our parable is blind to the fact that he is emotionally impoverished. And even though he is addressing his soul, he is giving no thought as to what might enhance his spiritual life, nor is he giving any real thought as to what might bring him contentment and peace both now and in the future. Instead, he seems to believe that shoring up and increasing his wealth is the key to true happiness.

Researchers tell us that while having enough to live on is important for a degree of contentment, once a person earns over a certain amount their happiness does not increase and is some cases it decreases. It should be self-evident to anyone that money alone does not bring happiness. In fact recently an economist reflected on the “shocking fact” that people in the West have become no happier in the last 50 years, despite being healthier, wealthier and better travelled.

True happiness, as most of us know, lies in our relationships with our families, our friends and ultimately with God. We cannot be truly at peace if we are always striving for something more, if we are competing with others or if we are living in an imaginary “better” future rather than being satisfied with the present.

If we are not content with what we have in the present, will we know when we actually do have enough or will our lives be a constant struggle to have more and more? Jesus does not buy into the question about inheritance. He knows that greed eats away at the soul, isolates us from the community around us, and reflects a belief that we are better than God at looking after ourselves. Instead of entering the dispute Jesus tells a parable and concludes by reminding us that the source of all things is God and that it is in our relationship with and our trust in God that true contentment is to be found.

 

Advertisements

Tags: , , ,


%d bloggers like this: